Although marijuana has been mostly legal in the District of Columbia for nearly a year, Congressional leadership continues to sandbag the city’s desire to establish a taxed and regulated cannabis industry through a parasite rider tucked inside a federal spending bill.
There was some hope that the outcome of the latest federal budget would include the suspension of an amendment introduced in 2014 by Maryland Representative Andy Harris intended to prevent the D.C. Council from getting into the business of selling weed. However, after months of negotiations, the House and Senate finally came to terms on a lazy $1.1 trillion budget deal, which included the renewal of the Harris rider, once again preventing the District from moving forward with legislation to legalize recreational pot sales.
The Harris amendment cripples the District from further modifying its marijuana laws by preventing the city from using Uncle Sam’s money to “enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance.” The rider was drummed up last year after D.C. voters passed Initiative 71, legalizing the cultivation, possession and transfer of marijuana. Fortunately, this aspect of the law remains unaffected under the Congressional amendment.
Over the weekend, Senator Rand Paul provided some insight into why the latest omnibus spending bill seems to mimic the actions of last year, at least in regards to the inclusion of temporary marijuana reforms, without making any effort to pass new provisions. Paul told a New York radio show that “nobody” read the bill, and that he didn’t vote for it because had no idea what was inside.
“It was over a trillion dollars, it was all lumped together, 2,242 pages, nobody read it, so frankly my biggest complaint is that I have no idea what kind of things they stuck in that bill in the middle of the night,” Paul said.
District lawmakers are furious with Congress for not giving the issue a fair shake in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget plan. D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton recently told WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show that congressional inaction has, once again, forced the District into a state of “hypocrisy” and “outrageousness” by forcing residents into the black market to get their hands on a product that is legal to grow and possess across the city.
Marijuana activists agree that Congress has failed to exercise any common sense with respect to the District in the latest spending bill.
“Marijuana is now legal for adults in the District of Columbia, and it needs to be treated like a legal product,” Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. “It is irrational to prohibit D.C. officials from establishing a regulatory system to control the cultivation and distribution of marijuana. By renewing the Harris Amendment, Congress is posing a real threat to public health and safety in our nation’s capital.”